Disaster planning, mix-and-match style

Disaster planning traditionally focuses on three variables: data center replication, building design and backups. Analysts have maintained for years that the most common "disaster" is outright hardware failure because of faulty data center design, for instance, when the "emergency power off" button is hit, either accidentally or on purpose. Yet, for many enterprises throughout the U.S., the reality is that recovery plans should be customized for whichever type of major disaster is most likely to occur in any given area.

"There are really two kinds of disasters that can affect your data center," says Ken Brill, founder and executive director of The Uptime Institute in Santa Fe, N.M. "Those that do not affect your data center directly but do affect your region -- when the region recovers, you will recover. Another is a disaster that affects your building directly; you won't recover until you recover the building. One of the most important decisions, but one that is often given little thought, is where to put the data center."

According to Brill, regional considerations such as city location, proximity to the ocean, whether the data center will be near a flood plain and even variables such as whether the data center is near an exterior wall, should all be considered carefully based on the region, not on broad computing guidelines.

Composite risk factors by geographic region

Risk factors include tornado, hurricane, snowfall, high winds and others. Source: ComputerSite Engineering Inc.

Click to view larger image

"There's a wave of regional events around the world, which started with 9/11 and then the power outage during the summer of 2003 [on the East Coast], Katrina, and flooding that we see going on around the world and terrorist events," says Roberta J. Witty, an analyst at Gartner Inc., who says disaster recovery budgets should be 8% to 9% of total data center budgets. "Organizations are starting to understand that an event can happen completely outside of your control and you'd better be prepared for it."

To find out how different companies customize their plans, we spoke to data center administrators in several locations around the U.S., including Florida, Minnesota, California and New York.


One of the primary concerns with earthquakes is prepping the building for both tremors and catastrophic events. Lucasfilm Ltd., located north of San Francisco in Nicasio, Calif., anchors each building to the ground -- including video production facilities and the main data center. The location is built on bedrock and is well above sea level. Kevin Clark, IT director at the data center, says these precautions were planned well ahead of the site's construction and were the primary methods they used for disaster planning.

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